In what will certainly be receiving a mixed reaction from many of Mass Effect's core audience, BioWare has confirmed that the series' Lead Gameplay Designer Christina Norman has left the company ahead of the completion of Mass Effect 3. Reasons for Norman's departure aren't being given, but we do know that her replacement should be considered up to the task.
Norman's tenure as Lead on the Mass Effect franchise was one defined by change, taking the extensive and at-times cumbersome inventory and collection mechanics of the first game out of the equation in favor of a much more streamlined shooter.
The decision to simplify the game beyond the usual definition of an RPG was the source of much controversy among BioWare's fanbase, particularly after their work on the incredibly deep Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
Still, our chance to speak with Christina Norman reinforced the fact that the changes brought were seen as a success for the developer, and since the E3 demo of the third installment, we've fully expected to see more of the same for Mass Effect 3. But as it turns out, Norman's time with the game and the company have come to a close in advance of the game's release.
The announcement came - rather unceremoniously - via a message posted by BioWare's Chris Priestly on the company's forums:
"I removed Christina Norman from the Twitterinformation section as Christina has left BioWare (she recently got married and she and her husband moved away from Edmonton).
You are still welcome to follow Chistina if you want (she is a very interesting person and a lot of fun on Twitter), but she isn't part of the Mass Effect or BioWare teams anymore, so I removed her info."
While some may have initially read the post's blunt nature as a sign of a less-than-amicable break-up, Norman has since voiced her support for the game via Twitter, and hinted that details on her next job will be coming soon:
"I go on vacation for a couple days with limited Internet access and the news I am leaving BioWare got out!...
"Anyway one thing I will say is don't worry about ME3, it's fine, the gameplay is going to be way better than me2...
"Apparently all the news stories are saying I left BioWare because I got married. I did get married, but that isn't why I left...
"More info to follow soon but suffice it to say I remain in the games industry and I have a new gig...
"I am also very grateful to BioWare and the mass effect team for the experience of working on three exceptional mass effect games."
With Norman now out of the development team for Mass Effect 3, BioWare's Preston Watamaniuk has taken over the duties. Watamaniuk's previous work on KOTOR is sure to prove his ability to long-time RPG fans, but those hoping for massive changes being brought this close to the game's release shouldn't hold their breath.
Although, the new weapons customization seen at E3 is a sign that the developers are working to address some of the fan complaints, so there's still hope that more depth an inventory elements are in the works for ME3.
We think that Norman's removal isn't likely to cause any changes to Mass Effect's more-profitable-than-ever gameplay, but what's your take? Think a new Lead Designer could institute some changes to Mass Effect 4? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.
Even though we have our own issues with the changes brought to the series, we can't deny the fact that under Norman's watch, Commander Shepard's story was brought to more gamers around the world than many of us ever thought possible, so we wish her the best in whatever future projects lie in store.
We'll see what direction the series is heading in when Mass Effect 3 is released for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on March 6, 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.